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Obama: "You have the power to stop deportations"
Date 13/11/27/13:49

"You have the power to stop deportations" says SF Protester At Obama event "Beefing up security at the Mexican border meets with wider GOP approval"
President tells hecklers, 'There's no shortcut to democracy'
By Carla Marinucci, Kevin Fagan and Stephanie Lee

President Obama issued an impassioned call Monday for Congress to pass immigration reform during a visit to San Francisco that - in true city-by-the-bay fashion - included everything from a nod to Batkid to an exchange with a protester who pleaded with him to halt all immigrant deportations.

Obama's frank conversation with the protester came during an invitation-only address before 400 people at a Chinatown recreation center. Later, at a sold-out fundraiser at the SFJazz Center, the president again found himself in conversation with a shouting audience member who urged him to bypass congressional Republicans and use executive orders to accomplish major reforms.

In both cases, Obama delivered a sobering message: "There's no shortcut to democracy" and work on such important issues will be hard. But, as he told the fundraiser audience, "we have to keep pushing."

Obama opened his five-hour visit to the city at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, hoping to jump-start a comprehensive immigration reform package that has passed the Senate but stalled in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

Although he blamed "the unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country," he pointedly exempted Speaker John Boehner from his criticism - noting that the Ohio Republican has recently opened the door to the possibility of bringing pieces of the package to a vote.

"I believe the speaker is sincere," Obama said. Chopping a comprehensive reform package into chunks, he said, is "OK - it's Thanksgiving. We can carve that bird into multiple pieces."

The Senate's immigration package includes creating a path to citizenship for some immigrants in the country illegally, a provision that many Republicans dislike, and beefing up security at the Mexican border, which meets with wider GOP approval. If the House backed the full package, Obama said, the U.S. economy would grow by $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years while the deficit would shrink by $850 million.

Obama cited a local example of the benefits of immigration - Andrew Lee and his four brothers, who fled Vietnam, entered the U.S. as refugees and in 1984 took over a cafe in San Francisco that they turned into today's $60 million Sugar Bowl Bakery operation.

"These humble and striving immigrants from Vietnam now employ more than 300 Americans," Obama said, and suggested to laughter that perhaps the bakery could acquaint him with its famously tasty doughnuts.

Deportation heckler

Obama's half-hour speech was interrupted near the end by a protester who stood on risers behind the president, yelled that he had been separated from his South Korean family for 19 months and told him, "You have the power to stop deportations."

As the president's staff stood ready to eject the man, identified in media reports as Ju Hong, a 24-year-old graduate student in the country without legal documentation, Obama interceded.

"No, no, he can stay here. I respect the passion of these young people," he said.

Addressing Hong directly, he said, "If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so.

"But we're also a nation of laws," he said. "The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I'm proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won't be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done."

Obama's speech was the most public portion of a visit that began when Air Force One touched down just after 10:30 a.m. at San Francisco International Airport. Afterward, he headed to the SFJazz Center fundraiser and another money-raising event, this one a $32,400-per-person affair at the Presidio Heights home of Salesforce founder and billionaire Marc Benioff.

Obama was met at the airport by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Among those in the Ong Center to hear the president were Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

'Love Batkid'

The president opened with a shout-out to Batkid, the 5-year-old leukemia survivor who got to play a superhero Nov. 15 on the streets of the city before huge crowds.

"No more super-villains because Batkid cleaned up the streets," said Obama, who cut a short congratulatory video for the boy, Miles Scott, on his big day. "Love Batkid."

Then Obama turned serious, trying to renew attention on immigration reform five months after the Senate approved a package that would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. It would also increase the number of highly skilled workers allowed into the country and establish a new visa program for farmworkers.

Activists make point

Joining immigrant advocates in protests directed at Obama were activists outside the SFJazz Center fundraiser angered by the administration's use of drone-aircraft warfare. Other protesters were dismayed by the president's actions on climate change, including his failure so far to kill the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil refined from tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama alluded to the protests inside the fundraiser to an audience that included Mayor Ed Lee, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, East Bay Reps. Eric Swalwell and Barbara Lee, South Bay Rep. Mike Honda, and University of California President Janet Napolitano, the president's former homeland security chief.

"I had some folks sing to me," Obama said. "I had some guy with the shoes with the little toes in 'em. ... You know, that doesn't happen in Chicago.

"There have been at least five protests. ... I don't know what they're yelling, but they're yelling something,' " he said. "That's par for the course in San Francisco."

But Obama also heard from a frustrated supporter who - like Hong - shouted at him to use executive orders to enact reforms by fiat.

"A lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem. ... Just sign an executive order, and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress," Obama said.

But he added, "That's not how it works. ... There's no shortcut to democracy. As laborious as it seems sometimes ... as frustrating as it may be sometimes, what we have to do is just keep on going, keep on pushing."

Carla Marinucci, Kevin Fagan and Stephanie Lee are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail:,,

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